Mallett: ‘Expectations have risen but O’Keefe will deliver’

The young Steve O’Keefe has reminded Ashley Mallett of Derek Underwood. And perhaps, that’s why as the former Australian spinner starts talking, he refers to the young kid on the block as a ‘smaller version’ of Underwood.

“O’Keefe doesn’t spin the ball much, but even then, he can get it in the right areas,” says mentor Ashley Mallett.   -  PTI

The young Steve O’Keefe reminds him of Derek Underwood. And perhaps, that’s why as former Australian spinner Ashley Mallett starts talking, he refers to the young kid on the block as a ‘smaller version’ of Underwood.

The reason, that the Aussie spin great comes up with, is also as interesting as his talking style -- crisp, to the point and accurate. “O’Keefe doesn’t spin the ball much, but even then, he can get it in the right areas. That’s something Underwood would do. In the first Test (in Pune), O’Keefe was so accurate, that Indian batsmen found it tough to play,” Mallett tells Sportstar from Adelaide on Friday morning.

Careless India

The 71-year-old, who still holds the record of claiming 28 wickets in Australia’s tour to India in 1969-70, says that the Indian side was ‘careless’ in the first Test, which led to its collapse. “The Indian team was not too sure about whether to attack or defend. After a careless stint in the first innings, it looked as if it was a bit puzzled about what to do in the second innings,” he says, adding that despite being 0-1 down in the series, the Virat Kohli-led side has all the potential to perform a lot better in the second Test in Bengaluru.

“If you pick up 12 wickets, there will be pressure. More than that, the expectation will be phenomenal. But that shouldn’t bother the young man, as he has his head on the shoulders.”

Even before the heavyweight series started, Mallett had predicted that young O’Keefe will find an edge over Nathan Lyon. And after his 12-wicket haul in a spin-friendly track in Pune, the focus has suddenly shifted on him. So, when the action gets underway at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Saturday, the young Australian spinner will certainly feel the heat.

However, Mallett, who has worked with O’Keefe in the past, believes that the young gun will not buckle under pressure. “If you pick up 12 wickets, there will be pressure. More than that, the expectation will be phenomenal. But that shouldn’t bother the young man, as he has his head on the shoulders,” Mallett says, before pausing.

A few seconds later, he completes the answer. “Well, (in the second Test) I do not expect him to run through the Indian batsmen like he did in Pune. But he will certainly maintain the touch,” says Mallett, who is considered one of the best spin coaches in the international arena.

Subtle approach

Some eighteen months ago, the former Australian offie stalwart met O’Keefe at the Gabba in Brisbane. And, in most of the time, the two were busy discussing spin and how to improve it. And now, as both Australian and Indian cricket fans go gaga over the youngster, Mallett feels happy. “His approach is quite subtle, and he can mix his pace quite appropriately. That mix certainly leaves the batsmen a bit confused as to whether to face it or just leave. That’s his area of strength and O’Keefe should keep that going,” Mallett says.

Ashley Mallett still holds the record of claiming 28 wickets in Australia’s tour to India in 1969-70.   -  Special Arrangement

 

While the International Cricket Council (ICC) has termed the Pune pitch as ‘poor’, Mallett, at his wittiest best, agrees that even he was surprised to see Australians pulling off such a one-sided win. That too, on a tricky Indian surface. “Australia did an India on Indian surface,” he says, before trying to explain his point. “The Australians watched the ball closely and even took a leaf out of Indian spinners’ book. While the Pune wicket was tailor-made for Indian spinners, it was actually better used by the Aussies.”

Before the series commenced, Australia brought in former India spinner Sridharan Sriram as its spin bowling consultant. Like most of his former colleagues, even Mallett feels that the move was quite justified. “His presence has definitely helped our bowlers. Earlier, while touring India, the Australian spinners would bowl in wrong length, giving the batsmen long room. That would go on for hours, helping the batsman settle down. But this time, the changes have been subtle,” he says, adding: “This time, the boys used their common sense.”

“Australia did an India on Indian surface. The Australians watched the ball closely and even took a leaf out of Indian spinners’ book. While the Pune wicket was tailor-made for Indian spinners, it was actually better used by the Aussies.”

Even though Australia is 1-0 up in the series, many cricket experts believe Steve Smith’s wards need to be cautious. Drawing reference to Steve Waugh’s team, which lost the series 2-1, despite going ahead in the first Test in 2001, the fraternity believes it is important to stay grounded. Mallett, however, says that the players must continue to attack. “They must field well and then play the attacking game they played in Pune. That should be it,” he points out, adding that with O’Keefe in best form, the partnership with Mitchell Starc will make Aussie bowling line-up more powerful.

But even as he speaks about Australia, Mallett also expects India to fight back in the second Test, and play a ‘lot better’. “In Pune, both their innings were bad. They expected a bit too much from the wicket, which affected their chances. But with players like Ravichandran Ashwin around, it would surely play a lot better,” he says, adding that the real series would begin from Saturday.

So, as his ward takes the ground in the second Test, sitting far away in Adelaide, a vastly experienced coach will stay glued to the television set, hoping for his ‘young man’ to come good again. After all, for a mentor, nothing is more satisfying than seeing his ward turning all the heads!

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